While Chevrolet is still setting the stage for the future of battery powered vehicles with the Volt , the Japanese automaker Nissan has been perfecting the art of the electric car for over 60 years now and their all new LEAF BEV is just about ready to roll off the assembly line in order to become the first mass market affordable electric car. As part of the Nissan LEAF Zero Emission Tour, the hamburger brand brought their Aqua globe show car from Detroit all the way down to Orlando where we got a chance to get up close and personal with it and a ride behind the wheel of the user friendly test mule that features all of the parts that make it work. Nissan has been investing heavily in the advancement of lithium ion technology ever since they teamed up with NEC to produce revolutionary hybrid battery packs that produce nearly twice the energy density compared to traditional units which mean they will last longer with a much more potent charge that have powered everything from fictional animatronics dinosaurs in Jurassic Park to texting teenager’s cell phones in Japan’s Shibuya district.
The LEAF is about as green as a new car can get, not only does it lack a tailpipe to emit harmful emissions, but the seats were made from recycled plastic bottles and even the tire supplier was chosen because of their diminutive carbon footprint. Despite being an electric car with a compact electric motor in place of an internal combustion engine under the hood, Nissan has chosen to keep with the traditional two box layout, albeit quite curvaceous and a bit wide in the back. Nissan chosen to set the LEAF apart from the rest of the lineup with a variety of blue anodized emblems and Zero emissions logos. The LEAF offers room for five and lots of cargo thanks to the ultra low shelf in the trunk, and even fully loaded, the additional weight won’t compromise the LEAF’s range. Speaking of distances, Nissan expects that their new electric vehicle will be able to travel up to 100 miles between charges, more than enough for the average daily commute, and reach a 90 MPH top speed, making it more than adequate for highway use.
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Charging the LEAF will be a breeze, using the SAE specified plug powered by one of Nissan’s charging stations and a 220V hookup, the batteries will be topped off in 8 hours. There is even a quick charge feature that provides up to an 80% charge in about a half an hour with a different rapid charging unit, which was described as injecting DC power directly into the battery though the second outlet hidden underneath panel in the nose. For those of us who are all too familiar with running out of gas, the Japanese automaker is also working on a plan as part of the LEAF’s logistics network to provide highway patrolling Road Rangers with their own battery packs capable of giving the EV a quick jolt from a remote source in order to get owners on their way to the nearest charging station. Interested, Nissan is taking reservations starting this spring.
Our trip around the parking lot in the test car, a modified Nissan Versa with the LEAF’s working parts underneath, was a bit brief. However those familiar with the current generation Prius will find the controls to be very familiar, flipping a switch to get out of park before pulling back and to the side on a lever to engage drive. Other than that the mule operated just like any other vehicle, but as with most cars equipped with an oversized battery and energy regeneration units built into the front hubs, everything from the steering to the way it accelerated felt heavy. We were hoping for a bit more oomph from the company that created the GT-R, but after all this car is destined for a completely different market.